Northern Neck Farm Museum – History of Agriculture in the Northern Neck
HEATHSVILLE – The Northern Neck Farm Museum began with a collector, an individual who refused to discard what was once considered useful and later became obsolete. In his 50-plus years of farming, Luther Welch, a native of Northumberland County, grew his collection of farm equipment and wanted to share it. Other farmers and community members shared his dream and a five county regional museum was formed in 2006 to tell the story of agriculture on the Northern Neck of Virginia.
The Northern Neck of Virginia has a rich agricultural tradition. From the early American Indians who grew maize, squash and beans to the present-day farmer managing hundreds of acres of corn, soybeans, and small grains, the accumulated knowledge of the land from generations of participants in this life-sustaining activity is worthy of a permanent display of appreciation. The goal of the museum is to develop exhibits that span the years from early American Indian agriculture through the present.
Farm Tractors – Tractors marked the beginning of the age of machines for farmers on the Northern Neck. The first ones were very large, cumbersome and steam powered, but with the introduction of diesel and gasoline engines, tractors became more practical after 1920. They still were very rudimentary with metal wheels and metal seats but by reducing the dependence on animals and farm workers they dramatically changed farming. The Museum has models that were used from the 1920s to the present. The tractor collection was donated by John Jenkins and Luther Welch.
Farm Equipment – The farm equipment exhibits were expanded to include more hand tools and an entire shelf around the ceiling of farm equipment. In addition to the tractors there is a unique dog-powered pulley machine that was one of the first used in this region and a seed cleaning machine that was hand powered. There are also several samples of horse drawn plows and the equipment needed to sustain a farm before the arrival of tractors.
The Farm Wife – Critical to the success of farms in the past was a teamwork partnership in which the wife’s role was essential to the success of the farm. Exhibits include an old wood stove that cooked many meals including bread and cakes long before electricity arrived on the Northern Neck. Store-bought clothing was expensive and often not available in rural areas, so a sewing machine was critical for mending clothes and creating outfits from yards of fabric. The Norb Rieg family donated a machine from the 1900 period to museum. Cleaning clothes could be a tiresome task until washing machines made the scene in the late 1800s. On display are some rare examples of the early hand-powered washing machines which were donated by John Jenkins.
Rural Electrification – While urban areas had electricity available in the 1880s, it was almost 1940 before the convenience of flipping a switch to have lights in the evening hours was available to less populated areas like the Northern Neck. Oak Grove in Westmoreland County was first to receive electricity, but it was 1948 before the Lyells Substation at the Richmond/Westmoreland county line was energized. The Northern Neck Electric Cooperative donated a new photographic display on the history of delivering electricity to the region.
The museum is a recognized 501c3 non-profit corporation dedicated to creating a center devoted to preserving and sharing the history of farming and forestry and its cultural impacts on society. Education is primary to the museum with fieldtrip programs for the school systems and general public visitation being the top priorities. Heather Drinkwater, the education and administrative coordinator, is available to answer questions and assist you with a visit to the museum. Her phone number is 804-761-5952.